Travel: Sampling the beautiful sights of Holland by barge and bike

Alan travelled aboard the Sir Winston.
Alan travelled aboard the Sir Winston.
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One of the beauties of a cycling holiday in Holland is that you could virtually climb a pair of stepladders and have a panoramic view of the whole country.

During a week-long trip, the highest hurdle I had to overcome was a humpback bridge.

Even the proud Netherlanders laugh at the flatness of their beloved landscape. In the south-east near Maastricht where Holland’s highest hill soars to a paltry 322 metres above sea level, they ironically refer to the area as The Dutch Alps.

So if you’re in training for the Tour de France a bike trip to these lowlands wouldn’t suit. But if, like me, you prefer to cycle at a leisurely place, then there’s nowhere better.

And to make it even easier why not have your own barge to take you to all the best bits ?

Manchester-based Whereabouts Holidays specialise in activity breaks, offering more than 200 tours with 45 dedicated to walking and 150 to cycling. My journey began with a cheap flight to Amsterdam and a 30-minute train and free five-minute ferry ride to my floating home for the week.

The “Sir Winston” was built in Scotland in 1943 to deliver torpedoes to Royal Navy submarines. By 1958 she had emigrated to Holland, working as a cargo boat carrying minerals and sand.

In 1963, she was converted into a passenger barge and extended in 1974 to include a restaurant and replace her portholes with sliding windows in the cabins .

Now the 80-metre vessel holds a maximum of 68 passengers and 12 crew, supervised by genial Captain Jaap Lamme, from Zaandam. Our skipper, a sprightly 76, has held his captain’s licence for 52 years and knows every nook and cranny on Holland’s waterways.

Each morning after breakfast on board, we were provided with a packed lunch and straddled our seven-geared hire bikes for a new adventure. In the next five days we travelled on cycle paths through the prettiest parts of the southern Netherlands.

Our barge chugged from Amsterdam to Zaandam, Delft, Gouda, Utrecht, Rotterdam and Schoonhoven.

The bikes took us alongside canals and dykes which were the homes of herons, great-crested grebes, coots, oyster catchers, storks and a wide variety of wading birds.

We passed dozens of traditional 19th Century windmills as we covered about 125 miles during the week.

Maps were issued to show us the way and many followed them with confidence. Mere mortals like myself preferred to stay in the main peleton where we could get lost together and correct our mistakes as part of the bonding experience. My one day off from cycling was spent in the spectacular gardens of Keukenhof, near Lisse, where the sheer scale of their dazzling displays of tulips in late April was truly breathtaking.

Back on board ship after three-course dinners, passengers swapped yarns about their travels over drinks from the cosy bar area.

Casual clothes were the order of the day throughout, ending with Pirates’ Night, where the crew had plunged enthusiastically into the ships’ dressing-up box.

Travel facts:

- Alan Hart travelled as guest of Whereabouts Holidays.

- The Amsterdam and southern Holland bike and barge self-guided cycling tours start from £519 per person for eight days on a full-board basis with bike hire.

- For more information, visit https://www.whereaboutsholidays.comor call 0800 755 5425.